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Companies need to “wake up” to the consequences of slips, trips and falls

christian_harrisChristian Harris, commercial director at Bonasystems, the UK market leader in slip risk management and specialist floorcare products

At the beginning of November, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) issued its annual statistics on accidents and illnesses in the workplace for 2015/2016.

One figure, in particular, stands out and should concern anyone involved in the cleaning of company premises. It’s that slips, trips and falls have accounted for an average of 19 per cent (that’s one in five) of all injuries caused in the workplace over the last three years; and over 40 per cent of all specified injuries (e.g. fractures).

If you add that to the figures for “falls from height” at 26 per cent – as falls from height are often preceded by a slip, you have a very serious picture.

But is this just scaremongering? Absolutely not. Although it’s rare, but not unknown, for a slip or trip to lead to death, it can lead to serious injuries for the individual involved. This often necessitates the person taking time off work, affecting their income. 4.5 million estimated working days were lost to non-fatal workplace injuries in 2015/16.

Secondly, it is frustrating because most slips, trips and falls are totally avoidable. It’s not always a case of replacing expensive floors or applying high-end treatments. The major cause of poor floor safety is attributable to cleaning regimes.

Lastly, there’s the consequences for the company involved. Thanks to a rule change in February around the way that health & safety breaches are prosecuted, companies who are found to be at fault now face the prospect of substantial fines and in the worst cases, the risk of custodial sentences for their directors.

Despite the warnings, there is still widespread misunderstanding among companies about how to a) assess the safety of their floors and b) clean them in order to keep them safe.

Our work for the likes of Virgin Active, Sainsbury’s, Hilton and Network Rail has enabled us to come up with the following advice for busineses and building owners on how to keep their floors safe:

1. Use a recognised test to measure how safe your floors are. Building owners should use a Pendulum Test or have one done independently by a member of the UK Slip Resistance Group (http://www.ukslipresistance.org.uk/). These tests are approved by the HSE and insurance companies.

2. Test regularly and test in “wet” conditions. All properties with high footfall (e.g. lobbies and retail spaces) have the potential to become wet at some point. Certain environments are unquestionably foreseeably wet and therefore require a 36+ wet PTV to achieve the HSE benchmark.

3. Check that your floor has been specified according to UK standards. Quite often, architects and builders refer to “R” ratings when it comes to installing floors, but this is a European standard and has no standing in UK law.

4. Get the basics right. These include making sure that cleaning products are right for the environment – a commercial kitchen for instance will have far greasier contaminants than a retail space – the cleaning products need to be correct for the floor in question and also take into account who uses it. It pays to be wary of profiled surfaces, as they will require a different level of cleaning to smooth floors.

5. Review your cleaning practices. Mop and bucket-style cleaning actually spreads dirt around so that it can build up in the profile of the floor, making it more unsafe. The same goes for cleaning products – make sure that they are suitable for the environment and the likely contaminants on the floor itself. You can assess whether your cleaning regime is effective by doing a pendulum test before and after cleaning. If your cleaning method does not achieve a good level of slip resistance, try a different method.

6. Invest in training. Correct training and supervision of cleaning teams is essential. Again, it’s a question of back-to-basics – ensuring that staff read and act upon the manufacturer’s instructions, particularly in relation to getting the correct concentration of products. Having the right equipment and being able to use it correctly and safely is vital, as is adequate supervision and a robust system of checks and records. But it could also be a question of making sure that cleaning teams do things in the right order – particularly in a time-pressured environment.

7. Don’t assume that you have to replace a slippery floor. Many companies assume that they will have to embark on an expensive floor replacement if they fail the test. This is not necessarily the case – often a different cleaning regime, using the correct cleaning products can make all the difference.

8. Make it a priority for the whole business. The best results often come where facilities management, health & safety and finance managers are all in agreement about investing in floor safety and doing it properly.

About Sarah OBeirne

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